All of what I have written in the first part of a double homily designed for the bleakness of Good Friday, and what I might have spoken at a planned Compline, is true. In many, many ways, as a species, we have brought what has happened on ourselves, by our greed and selfishness, by our closing our minds and hearts to the rape of our planet, by our cruelty to others, other animals including other people. Like the masses who enjoyed listening to Jesus’ parables without comprehending them, who asked to be healed and then did not stay to thank him, who fled when he was arrested, and deserted him when he hung on a cross. The first part of my Meditation ended on Good Friday.
But yet, there is more to write, to proclaim, in a gentler voice for today, Easter Day, Christ is Resurrected from the dead.
He is risen. He is risen indeed!
The first stirrings were heard in the garden, my garden, everyone’s garden and that garden where the body of Our Lord was laid about two millennia ago, and I have already mentioned the beauty of the spring, the flowers everywhere; the birds establishing their territories and making their nests. And yes, many of us locally and in countless other localities in this country and abroad, have helped, not just now but year by year, establishing havens of peace in our gardens, parks, churchyards and wildlife sanctuaries. We have supported environmental charities of every kind, we have fed the birds, put up bird-boxes even under the gutters of St Frideswide’s church for swifts and other birds. And we have done this alongside looking after the vulnerable in our human population.
Some of us went on a big demonstration in the centre of Oxford in support of Extinction Rebellion, many of us young, students and schoolchildren, none of us quite realising how prescient this was, for we were not just threatened by climate change but by epidemic. The fate of the pangolins in Vietnam might signal our own fate! Others went further, blocking roads in London in peaceful protest, drawing accusations that they were impeding the traffic, harming the economy. Those roads are empty now: so what price the senseless acquisition of wealth? Some of that action was Christian action; some of it from the very heart of our own benefice! In addition I sign many petitions about a sustainable, an environmentally friendly world, without cruelty and many others do, I find myself involved with Animal Ethics, in a mainly student society with many others who think the same way, led by the leading Animal ethicist and priest, Fr Andrew Linzey and it is clear that the seeds for a future ‘new heaven and a new earth’ prophesied in Revelation have already been planted.
Year by year I enjoy the warm relationship of people with animal companions, and in the past days taking very early walks there are humans being led around the fields by their canine companions. St Margaret’s church has seen many, many dogs in particular joining the worshipping community at services. They, and all wildlife, are welcome in our Animal Friendly church! Beyond that there are many farmers who try to farm sustainably; and waking early enough as I often do, before taking my stroll, I rejoice to hear about them on the farming programme, but we can see sustainable farming close at hand in our parish and benefice which is by no means entirely Urban and Suburban.
On a wider stage there is a long legacy of saints who have cared for the natural world and seen in the environment and the animals inhabiting it a reflection of the Garden of Eden, that other garden, from which we came and, with Christ’s help, aspire to return. Amongst them are St Giles, many of our own insular saints, St David, St Melangel, St Cuthbert, St Godric and St John Henry Newman amongst others, and of course the patron saint of Environmentalism, St Francis of Assisi from whom the present Pope took his name as well as the title of his Encyclical, Laudato si’ the beginning of St Francis’ famous hymn to the elements that make up the Cosmos, the planet on which we live and our very existence. Moreover, faith organisations amongst them the Animal Interfaith Alliance, Catholic Concern for Animals, the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals, and A Rocha have for many years played an important part in the conservation of the lives and wellbeing of all creatures.
The past, then, has not been altogether as bleak as it sometimes seems as I read so many emails about cruelty both to humans and to other creatures. I spoke of Jesus deserted by all…not quite all, many women including his mother and Mary of Magdala were with him to the end; so was his favourite disciple, probably St John; and there were those sometimes overlooked heroes, members of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, something I dwelt on in a homily of some years ago for Holy Saturday, and as I write this homily on that very day, I imagine the beauty of that funeral garden in which our Lord was buried and rose from the Tomb.
And so we celebrate today, despite our present troubles, which none of us would wish to minimise, but celebration would be irrelevant unless we are all determined to do better, to live lives that are less self-centred, less greedy, less centred on physical (often monetary) reward. Jesus was all too well aware of the corruption that leads to evil thoughts and evil actions.
Individual action by the Church and by individuals, all those members of the church who are pledged to follow Christ must be resolute in trying to avert climate change which will lead to hardship, starvation and death in human communities in the poorest regions of the world as well as mass extinctions. Again, cruelty on a vast scale towards animals as well as humans must stop, and we still live in a world where there is slavery, the degradation of women and cruelty and neglect to children as well as treating other animals as commodity. If we are truly to be the eyes and hands of Jesus in this world we have far to go. But I have faith, great faith in the young, in those insistent raised voices of schoolchildren, taking a day off school, at the Extinction Rebellion rally! If as they come to maturity and assume positions of responsibility in State and Church, they go on to realise their hopes our Easter Proclamation will grow louder and louder with each passing year:
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!